The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Dec 6, 2014

A Parisian Put-Down

Enrique Vila-Matas wrote a fictionalised biography of his younger (somewhat exaggerated) self in Paris, Never Any End to Paris, in which he tried hard to emulate his hero Ernest Hemingway, to be poor and happy, to learn to write, to see the world in the light of his master. Instead, he was poor, desperately unhappy, and the paucity of his achievement was laid bare when he met Javier Grandes at a bar, who merrily said he was slow off the mark becoming a writer.
What I mean is you're slow compared to Boris Vian. At your age, he was already nearly dead, but he'd written about five hundred songs, three hundred poems, I don't know how many novels, fifty stage plays, eight operas, one and a half thousand music reviews. And that's not all, he used and abused the trumpet. And he was a great nighthawk, who used to flit from the Bar Vert to La Rhumerie Martiniquaise, from Tabou to Petit Saint-Benoit, from Trois Canettes to Vieux Colombier daily. Two marriages, I don't know how many kids, an engineering degree, thousands of conversations with the waiters at the Balzar, a thousand transgressions, he wore out the needles on the record players at the local rich kids' bashes, and well, anyway, I don't need to tell you.
Who could handle such frankness? Enrique was crushed, "practically destroyed, as if I'd lost a thousand games of pinball."


Cave Tabou, Paris
The Cave Tabou that Grandes mentioned was jazz club frequented by Boris Vian's circle as well a bunch of journalists and existentialists in St Germain-des-Prés. As Vian said, "Very quickly, the Tabou has become a center of organized madness. Let's be frank, none of the clubs that followed could recreate that incredible atmosphere, and Tabou itself, alas! could not retain it for very long... it was impossible." It was here that a reporter overheard Juliette Greco say, "We are all existentialists" and the expressive coinage was born. Juliette Greco was a brunette, but the poet Anne-Marie Cazalis was a redhead, and the two of them were frequently in the club, listening to Vian's jazz.

Greco and Cazalis


La Rhumerie Martiniquaise was another existentialist and jazz haunt in St Germain-des-Prés. Besides Vian, the likes of Georges Bataille, Henri Salvador, Antonin Artaud, Marcel Aymé, Man Ray, Aimé Césaire were to be found here. If high intellectualism was not your thing, you could splurge on the finest Antillean rums here.

La Rhumerie Martiniquaise in 1955.


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